Caught between the callousness of an absent father and the delusions of a troubled mother, a lonely young girl in the 1980s tries to lay claim to her own identity in Dunne’s debut novel.
Eva Korkova, the main character of this sometimes-poignant look at growing up poor in America, is forced to live in a run-down New England trailer park following the dissolution of her parents’ marriage. Her dad is rich but withholding, and her mom can’t come to grips with economic realities. Fiercely intelligent but socially disconnected, Eva finds solace in a steady flow of junk food and her friendship of another teenage outcast, Wayne, who’s shunned by others because of his weird hair and latent homosexuality. The off-kilter Eva bounces between the trailer park and her dad’s place in dusty New Mexico, where she receives even more harsh criticism and only provisional affection. Divorce, death, and disapproval threaten to crush young Eva, but she continues to endure, persevere, and even triumph. The author gives Eva a powerfully distinctive voice, and despite the young protagonist’s relentless sadness, she’s more mature and self-aware than any of the contemptuous adults surrounding her. Less well defined, however, is the thumbnail plot. Daunting challenges rise and recede without ever providing very much drama. Readers never get a clear understanding of how Eva’s able to summon the gumption to overcome such remarkable obstacles. Important themes, such as teenagers’ self-loathing and poor body images, are rendered virtual nonissues following Eva’s largely unexplained weight loss. A family secret that’s hinted at early on resurfaces late in the proceedings, but with little overall impact. Despite these shortcomings, however, Eva remains a compelling character—even if she’s one that many readers may wish they knew better.
An intriguing, if uneven, portrait of a young woman whose strength of character conquers a harsh environment.